Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Where the lambs were born

The wind whistled through a torn window screen and a half open window into the one-bedroom house. The sounds of it rising and falling like Navajo ceremonial songs in the winter. In the house a middle aged Navajo man named Freddy sat at a table looking through binoculars out across the land into the hills dotted by rabbit brush, high desert grass and yucca to where his mother Sally was herding sheep. Through the looking glass Freddy watched his mother walk a few steps and stop. He saw the three sheep dogs darting here and there looking for rabbits. The sheep moved like small clouds, never stopping long enough in one place, undulating in form and speed.

Earlier in the day before the sun rose over the mesas, Sally took the sheep in the direction of the water tank and windmill several miles to the north. Now, Freddy was watching her limp a few steps at a time, stop and raise her arm to shake an old coffee can filled with pebbles and tied together with bailing wire. The rattling sound made the sheep hasten their pace and Sally would start walking again with the wind blowing against her flowing blue traditional dress.

That afternoon Freddy came to visit his mother but found the house door padlocked. His mother was out herding sheep and he stood on the small porch made of cinder blocks closely placed together with ply-board placed on top and looked around with his hands making shade for his eyes. He could not see the telltale movement of the sheep’s white wool among the brown hills, and he could not see the sheep dogs running from one bush to another looking for rabbits. He did not see his mother standing under a small juniper tree for shade. Not seeing these things, he bent down and turned over a small flat sandstone rock and picked up the extra padlock key and let himself in.

The small house was tidy with an old cast iron stove in the center of the room and two beds against the wall on the west and south sides. On the north wall sat a small table and three chairs, an old cabinet and a radio sat on the windowsill with its wire coat hanger antenna. He looked around the room stopping at the pictures on the wall. There in military uniform was Freddy’s late father Ray before he was sent to war. Young. Smiling. Next to this picture was a younger Sally with her new husband Ray, both smiling and shy. In this picture, she was dipping her fingers into a traditional Navajo wedding basket with cornmeal to feed her husband. This was a long time ago when the future was filled with hope and prayers. Now, Freddy looked at this Navajo wedding picture and fought back tears. Things changed. Standing there, looking at this picture of the happy couple, Freddy hated what he had to tell his mother that could not be said with tears or any feelings that would bring tears. He looked away from the picture and sat down at the table.

Three days before, on Tuesday, Freddy called a livestock buyer and talked to the white manager about selling his mother’s sheep, specifically about how much money he could get for 98 head of sheep, and two rams. The white manager told him to hold on and Freddy holding the phone hard against his ear could hear the sound of a calculator being tapped and the sound of the calculator printing and the sound of paper tearing. Back on the phone, the manager told Freddy he’d give him just under five thousand dollars. After questioning the price, Freddy agreed to have the semi-truck come out to Sally’s place in four days with a check for $5,500.

Now, sitting there in his mother’s house, Freddy thought about what he was going to tell his mother about the sale of her sheep tomorrow morning. He hated to tell her but she was almost 87 years old and walking was getting harder for her and her mind was starting to fade. He thought about the first time he noticed her mind playing with her. It was right after dinner a year ago that she said her husband would be coming home soon and she needed to keep the stew on the cast iron wood stove. When she said this, Freddy stopped sweeping and asked what she said and she laughed at the absurdity of what she said. Sally’s husband had died 30 years before. Now, it became so that Freddy worried about his mother when he was at work. He worried she would lose sheep or worst yet, get lost among the hills and valleys where she walked. But today was the day that he hated the most and wished his mother did not become old.

The sound of the wind against the window screen and these thoughts made Freddy sad. And now, nearly three hours after he arrived at Sally’s house, he watched his mother bring the sheep in. Nearing the corral the sheep ran from her into the corral and straight to the salt blocks he put out last weekend. The sheep dogs kept walking around the coral to the small shed made of shipping pallets attached to the coral that kept the hay from cows and horses. This was their home. He watched his mother tie the corral gate with bailing wire and lean on the corral to watch the sheep settle down before she slowly made her way to the house. Satisfied, she started for home.

Almost home she stopped and looked up at Freddy’s truck and at her house and started walking again. At the door she stopped, looked in and smiled. It was always a pleasure to see her children. She raised them alone and now they were taking care of her. She walked in and greeted her son in the traditional way and turned to the butane stove and turned on the gas and lit a match so fire would catch at the burner. Next she partially filled a blue enameled coffee pot with water and swirled the water around and then walked to the front door to throw out the water and left over coffee grounds and then she filled the pot with water and fresh coffee and put this on the stove to boil. Next, she went to the cupboard for canned meat and some crackers for them to eat. All the while the wind danced against the screen making noise so that Freddy had to turn on the tribal AM radio station. Soon country music partially filled the air.

After opening the can of potted meat and carefully spreading it across crackers and eating and drinking boiled coffee and making small talk about who visited, whether she saw coyotes, and if the sheep that was sick was doing better, Freddy asked about how she was doing, how her knees were and if she still felt confused. This was a hard conversation because it was also very personal for a Navajo son to talk to his mother about her body and her mind. This would be usually left for daughter, but they didn’t ever come to visit here and only usually sent cards from the city at Christmas time or in May when Sally had her birthday. Once they came and complained that their mother was never home when they visited. So, this was Freddy’s responsibility to ask how she was doing. Sally looked out the window to the west and the setting sun and said she was getting older and that her legs were hurting more, but that she also felt good to take out the sheep, it made her feel like she had a purpose to her days, but she was feeling ya’ah’teeh, she was feeling well.

After a few sips of coffee, Freddy finally started in the most direct way he knew.

“There will be a man here with a truck to take the sheep tomorrow morning,” he said.

Not understanding, Sally asked in Navajo, where? Freddy responded by saying, “To sell.” Looking at his mother’s bewilderment, he quickly said, “You are getting too old to herd sheep, shi-ma.” Using the Navajo word for mother in a way that was emphatic in both a pleading way and a way that said his voice was going to get louder if she didn’t understand, which was also a way that meant he wasn’t going to argue about this. She looked at her son, her confused look diminishing and being replaced with a sad look. She pursed her lips and said in Navajo, “No!” This wasn’t the no as you understand it. This was an active verb. With that, Freddy finished his coffee and said that it was too late. The truck is coming tomorrow morning. Freddy got up and walked out the door of the house to his truck. He started his truck and drove back to his home.

Sally sat there alone with the wind dancing against the screen, the pictures on the wall, the radio station playing Willy Nelson, and the sound of her son’s truck racing off into the early evening. She looked at the table and thought about what would happened tomorrow. What she would do to stop the sale of her sheep. Throughout the night she fought back tears as she remembered the years she spent out on the land, the changes in the many seasons and observations about how the land and animals changed with the coming of cold and warm weather, the scent of the earth after a gentle rain, and the sun rising and setting at different points against the mesa throughout the year. After midnight, with the wind whistling against the house Sally finally fell asleep.

At dawn, she opened her eyes and momentarily forgot about the great sadness she went to sleep with. Suddenly, it came upon her like a great wind. Her thoughts whirled with fear. She lay there wondering what would happen today. Then she heard a vehicle coming up the driveway. Her son had arrived. And soon, another larger truck followed parking near the corral. Sally sat up, put her canvas sneakers on and made for the door. Just as she got there her son stopped her and said that she couldn’t go down there, blocking the door with his body, arms against the doorframe. And like that, the wind in her lungs left her and she slumped forward a little. She stood there looking at the floor and at her son’s shadow from the morning sun and she cried. Finally she returned to bed, sobbing for her sheep. In the past tense reserved for taking about the dead, she said in Navajo, “Shi Dibeh Yee’,” my sheep that were. Soon the larger truck started and drove off into the distance and Freddy, standing by the door all the time while her sheep were rounded up walked in and said to his mother, “It is done, now you don’t have to worry about herding sheep anymore.” Sally didn’t move. She had no more tears and her throat was dry, and she through about nothing. She was empty but for the great sadness she felt. Freddy stood by the door, looking in, and before he could think of something to say, he turned and walked back to his truck, got in and drove off. Freddy fought back sadness and reminded himself, “This is the way it had to be done!”

The next day Freddie visited his mother to check on her and to tell her that she was going to be moving to a nursing home soon. He parked near the house and walked up to the porch and knocked on the screen door. She was not home and he could not find her. He looked around to the surrounding land with his binoculars. He saw rabbit brush, the cedar trees, and the sage. He looked and didn’t see Sally or the sheep. The wind blew. He looked at the corral. He saw the sheep dogs sitting in the shade of the corral with their heads hanging low looking at him. The night before he closed the gate to the corral and now he could see that it was open. Freddy put down the looking glass and started out the door in the direction of the corral. At the corral now he saw that it was empty and he heard silence. He looked here and there and finally stopped and looked at the lambing pens. There, in the corner, a gate made out of a wooden pallet was on the ground and beyond this he saw his mother laying there against the fence, where the lambs were born, crying and shaking her head no and Freddy looked away.

Not long after Sally was found in the lambing pen, Freddy and his sisters decided to move her to a nursing home in a reservation border town 75 miles away. She quickly drowned in sadness. Her spoken Navajo words were never more than, “Doo-Dah Shi Yazhi, Doo-Dah.” “No my child, no!” In another year she passed. After they moved her body to the funeral home and within four days, Freddy cleared her belongings from nursing home room 314, putting her clothes in a black plastic trash bag, going through her desk and placing old holiday cards and get well soon cards from him and his sisters, a few from her grandchildren, never more than five cards for the two years she spent looking out the large front window of the nursing home on the outskirts of town toward the open land and rolling hills of her home. Freddy opened a drawer in a nightstand next to her bed. In this drawer was a folded piece of paper. Freddy opened the folded paper and saw that his mother had drawn sheep, hills, and an outline of a woman. In a simple way she drew a smile where the mouth of this lady should be and at the bottom of this drawing was the word, in shaky handwriting, “Happy.”

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A new place

It was the wintertime with snow on the ground and a kerosene lamp sat on a homemade table and lit the inside of a traditional Navajo home. A small stand stood by the door with a white enamel washbasin on top and by the stand was an old saddle leaning against the wall. A horse’s bridle hung from a peg on the wall above the saddle with an old rope. A Navajo man sat at the table drinking coffee and watched at his son sleep. His wife sat at the table looking at the red glow of the cast iron stove in the middle of the room with its stovepipe going straight up into a hole in the roof. Out side it was dark and it was morning before the sun came up.

“Get the boy up. It’s time to go,” the man said to his wife as he got up from the table.

The woman looked at her son and moved to the where he slept and gently called his name. The boy stirred and looked up at his mother and at the door where his father was standing and he sat up and cleared sleep from him eyes. His mother put the boy’s denim jacket that had a wool collar on a chair near the stove to warm it and placed a bowl of blue corn mush and coffee on the table for him.

“Eat, Sam. You have a long day and it will be cold,” the woman said in Navajo to the boy.

By the washstand the saddle leather cracked and the metal parts of the bridle jingled as the man pulled the saddle over his shoulder. Sam watched his father do this and saw him open the door. For a brief moment he could see the early morning darkness beyond the door and the snow that blew in and melted on the dirt floor and he felt the cold air on his face. Sam’s father went out and closed the door and he could hear his father’s footsteps crunching in the snow and fade away as he walked in the direction of the corral where his horse was.

Sam ate his blue corn mush and drank his coffee while his mother prepared a simple lunch for him and her husband. She placed the lunch into a cloth flour sack and tied it with a string. The door opened and Sam’s father called to him in Navajo, “Let’s go now.” Sam didn’t say anything and moved from the table and put on his warm jacket and grabbed the cloth sack of food from his mother. The sack contained tortillas, a small frying pan, and some canned meat. Before walking out the door, Sam looked at where he slept and he missed the warmth of his blankets. The cold morning air rushed in and he walked out into the darkness. Outside, the man pulled a wool cap over Sam’s head and over the cap an old straw cowboy hat that was too big for him and they walked to the corral.

Sam saw the horse was ready for the two-hour ride to the place where his father was building a new home. When they came near to the horse he saw the horse’s nostrils flare and he saw the condensation from its breath rise in great torrents of warm air in the cold morning. Sam’s father put one foot in the stirrup and lifted himself over the horse and he reached down for Sam’s small hand and in one quick movement Sam was sitting behind his father, his little legs fitting neatly into the space behind the saddle’s cantle. Next, Sam’s father tied a short rope around himself and Sam so the boy would not fall off if he fell asleep during the long ride.

After riding through flat lands, Sam and his father were now in the low hills that eventually gave way to towering white mesas in the distance. The land changed from dark to blue and now it was nearly sunrise and it was white from the snow. When they neared a place where other Navajo people lived they could smell wood smoke rising from stoves and they could hear dogs barking. It was hard to tell how far away the homes were because noise sounded much shaper in the cold air.

Riding behind his Father, Sam could hear him breathing and the saddle and the bridle creak and jingle with each step of the horse. He could also hear the horse’s steps crunching in the snow. They rode past the homes that were in the distance, across a wide arroyo, through cotton wood trees, and now up and through a draw in the mesa where the new home was being built.

At the new place the walls of the traditional house were built from straight pine logs stacked on top of one another and the roof was nearly finished. Sam’s father stopped the horse near the front door and let the boy down from the horse. He dismounted and tied the horse to an unused log and untied his tool bundle from the saddle’s pommel. Snow covered the land around the Hogan and the boy started clearing the place where the fire was and gathering wood to build the fire again. Nothing needed to be said. Sam took care of the fire and his father worked where he stopped the day before and after the fire was built Sam helped his father where he could keeping an eye on the fire. The day passed and near lunchtime the boy opened the cloth sack and took out the frying pan and the can opener and whatever canned food his mother put in the sack and he put these things together and Sam’s father smelled food cooking and came to the fire to eat. Sitting on a log placed near the fire, Sam ate quietly. His father, taking the coffee pot from the fire and pouring coffee into his cup asked Sam what he was thinking about.

The boy looked at the fire and said, “I have thoughts about why we’re building a Hogan when we already have one.”

After a moment, Sam’s father took a deep breath and threw out the coffee.

“Because I need someplace to go to,” he said.

“Why do you have to go?” Sam felt lonely when he asked his father this. His father would not be at home with his mother and he wondered where he would go to live. At either place he would be without one or the other and he felt something inside hurt and he too took a deep breath and poked at the fire with a stick.

A cold wind blew through the juniper trees and pushed the fire and smoke in a different direction. Sam’s father didn’t answer the question and walked back into the Hogan and in a moment the hammering started again and Sam started to wash the frying pan using snow and put the dishes and cups back into the cloth sack and he gathered wood to keep the fire going. As he walked into the draw among the juniper trees Sam thought about why his father had to leave. When he pulled on a dead branch for firewood the breaking sound startled him and shook snow from the tree. The breaking sound echoed only a little and he looked back at the Hogan and saw the fire was nearly out. After gathering a small arm full of wood he started back and the sound of his walking in the snow was close to him like the sound of his breathing. It was quiet.

When the sun cast shadows to the east side of the Hogan and these shadows were long, Sam’s father put his hammer and handsaw in a square sheet of canvas and rolled them up together and tied the tool bundle to the front of his saddle. Sam saw this and put the wood he gathered inside the Hogan to keep dry for tomorrow’s fire. Sam thought about the fire he would make tomorrow and he hoped his father would ask him to help build the Hogan. Today, Sam’s father worked alone and didn’t talk much and Sam sat near the fire most of the day. He watched his father hammer at the roof, walk in and out of the Hogan, carry lumber, and when he got cold he watched him stand near the fire and rub his hands together over the flames and they did not talk.

Now the horse was loaded up and hey started out for the other place. After two hours the horse came over the top of a small hill and in the distance Sam’s father could see his wife’s place. Smoke was rising from the stovepipe and Sam’s dog started barking and ran out to great them. Sam let his son off and took the horse to the corral where he removed the saddle and draped an old rug over the horse’s back here it was wet from the ride. This way the horse would be good in the morning. After doing this he took the saddle and lifted it over his right shoulder and walked toward the Hogan and he thought now about how things were and remembered when they were happy together. But now, they didn’t laugh and they rarely talked to each other. It was hard to live like this and it was hard to open the Hogan door.

Inside the Hogan he put the saddle near the washbasin facing it toward the stove so it would dry by morning. He hung the bridle on the wall and from a pot sitting on the stove he poured water collected from snow that was melted into the washbasin and washed his hands. Sam’s mother sat at the table. Sam lay near the wall and watched his mother and father. Before drying his hand on an old towel Sam’s mother asked her husband, “Is the Hogan completed?”

“It will be done tomorrow,” Sam’s father said.

“Then you will move out?”


That is all they said before Sam’s father turned toward the door and opened it and walked outside to check on his horse. When night came Sam’s mother lit the kerosene lamp and turned the light down low. She put out Sam’s blankets and she got ready to sleep putting out her things on the north side of the Hogan near the table. Sam’s father came in the house and took off his jacket and hung it on a peg near his saddle and put out his blankets on the south side of the Hogan. Sam pretended to sleep but he watched his father. He saw how he removed his boots and placed them neatly by the saddle and he watched him lay down. Before he fell asleep he saw his father turn toward the wall.

The next day before the sun came up the man quietly lifted his saddle and bridle from the wall. He opened the door and he could see it was snowing. The air was cold and stung his lungs when he breathed in. Before he closed the door he looked back at Sam, hesitated a moment, and without looking at the woman, he closed the door gently. Standing outside the Hogan, he took a deep breath and walked toward the coral. His horse had light frost covering its mane and the old blanket draped over its back. He took the blanket off the horse and replaced it with a thick saddle blanket and the saddle. He ran the saddle’s leather belts under the horse’s belly and through the metal buckles and tightened the belts making sure the saddle would not move too much and he tied the tool bundle to the front of his saddle. Before mounting the horse he hung the small rope he used to tie his son to him on the corral’s gatepost and got on his horse and started out in a slow trot to the new place.

Later that morning Sam’s mother shook him by the shoulder waking him. He moved a little and then he opened his eyes and remembered his father and the new Hogan and started moving fast because he thought he had to get ready to go. Before he could throw off his blanket, Sam’s mother stopped him by placing her hand on his small chest and said for him to sleep a little longer because his father had already gone.

“Why didn’t he wake me up?” Sam said. He looked at the door.

“Because he doesn’t need your help anymore.”

Sam lay back down and looked up at the ceiling and into the small opening between the chimney and the chimney hole in the roof and he could see it was snowing. He thought about how it would be cold today at his father’s Hogan. How the snow would have covered the place where he built the fire. He lay there thinking that he wished the snow would cover the bad feelings between his mother and father, that if you looked where the snow had covered you would see nothing to cause his father to move out. He also thought about the wood he put inside the new Hogan and hoped that his father would find it and use it to build a new fire and be warm, but he knew he couldn’t ever forget where the old fire was built under the snow.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Rain Haiku

Desert rain and night
The sound of heaven falling
Life despite darkness

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Wars End

Earth Moving

Staccato machine

Wounded and Dying


War is a shadow

With you

When the sun sets

Indian car

HUD home door


Drunken Neighbors fighting

Breaking Night’s solace

In tonight’s mirror

Old Navajo warriors

See that Time's Soft embrace

Will eventually succeed

Where enemies failed

Wars end

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


In better days you stood around the post office

With your cowboy boots and cowboy hat.

Wearing that perpetual smile and that nose

That red bulbous nose from drinking too much too long

When the call came that you died I thought back to that fall day

When you said we’d kick ass

And not to worry

Because we were winners

I dreamed about you last night, grandfather

Only in this red tinted land you ran never staying long in one spot

And running you cowered and hid under half fallen walls

Slamming old doors to buildings with no windows or roofs

I run along side you out of breath

In our moments from running you look skyward

Eyes darting from this place to that

And I see you are afraid

I ask why and you say, “Them”

Before I can ask who, we are running again

Ducking under broken tables and looking around darkened corners

Crawling on our elbows and knees and stopping and listening

Upon waking I wondered

What you could have done

To be in


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

When boys become rabbits

Running. Out of breath. Hoping. Scared. Hiding. Running again. It was in just that order we scattered to the wind after a drunken Navajo man kicked his car door open and jumped out waving a bat wildly in the air threatening to hit homeruns with our heads as baseballs. His car was hopelessly hung up on a rock barricade we built earlier that morning. The rock barricade was a great idea at the time. After building it we decided to lay in wait for just this moment, only Greg and Ollie were standing up and didn’t think to hide.

You should have felt the adrenaline when we heard that car coming. Our hearts were beating in our ears and we had on these crazy smiles and wild eyes. This was going to be good. What we didn’t expect was for a drunken man at the wheel to come racing down the dirt road at high speed, hit the rock barricade with magnificent force, losing his front bumper and his muffler and come to a dusty metal-on-rock screeching stop. We didn’t even count on an irate drunk exploding out the front driver’s side door with a bat. We didn’t think that we’d have to run for our lives. But that’s exactly what happened.

When we saw that crazy man there was no question about it: we were out running like rabbits down a maze of deep arroyos with stagnant filthy smelling water at the bottom. And just like in the cartoons, we came to a fork in the arroyo; four boys went one way, and two ran the down the other way. I remember thinking and running, God please let that man go down the other arroyo and not after me and Joe. We ran like hell sloshing through that stinky mud. No way out unless you could climb straight up arroyo walls like Spiderman.

We ran forever before the walls gave way to narrower and smaller walls. Joe, who was eleven years old was whispering loudly and out of breath, “What are we gonna do when we run out of arroyo Delbert?” Crap, I didn’t know. But just when I was about to say I didn’t know I saw a small tree with some good cover growing out the side of the arroyo. Being thirteen years old at the time, I jumped up and crawled in and turned around and hoisted Joe up into our hiding place. And we waited.

After what seemed like forever under that tree, we started to whisper.

“When can we get out of here Delbert?”

“I don’t know… but I think we better just wait ‘til night time.”

“Oh man, my dad’s gonna kill me if I get home after dark.”

“That crazy man out there will really kill us if he catches us. We just gotta wait Joe. If you want I’ll talk to my older brother to talk to your dad and…”

And right about then Joe’s eyes got super huge and he couldn’t point except to shake all over and look scared. I stopped talking and saw a shadow draw up over Joe and the tree we were hiding in and I swear it felt like that was the last time I would ever be alive.

The crazy man was out side of our hiding spot and breathing heavy. He came after us. This time his footsteps sounded odd. There was a metallic clanging to his steps and I heard that noise before when my dad was carrying his rifle hunting rabbits out at the farm. Oh God! The crazy man had a gun and a bat! It’s funny now that I think about it seeing Joe trembling and wetting his pants. God that was hilarious, but back then I was on the verge of darting out from under that brush like I seen rabbits do when my dad was out hunting. But we sat there, still, quiet, our ears flattened against your skulls, trying to make ourselves smaller and invisible. The crazy man walked right by us and soon we could hear him in the distance in not so good English with a heavy Navajo accent, “You boys come back here! I ain’t gonna hurt you. Just put them rocks away where you found them!”

Something about his voice told me and Joe he was lying. There was no way in hell we were gonna hop out and say, “Sorry mister, we didn’t mean to rip your car all to pieces.” No way in hell.

So we hid out there and waited and waited. We watched the shadows of the tree’s branches crawl from the west to straight down, and then to the east. We waited forever before moving. But before moving, Joe and I started whispering about who was gonna take look out and see where that crazy man went to. I decided Joe was too little to dare this risky move. So, like a prairie dog with a hawk flying in circles way above, I slowly peeked out and around, ever ready to pop back down or make a run for another hiding place. Man, I was tense. I looked this way and that, frustrated by the tall rabbit brush blocking my view. Nothing. I looked back toward where the car was. Nothing. I dropped back down and saw that Joe was crying.

“I don’t see him Joe. He’s gone. Don’t be afraid,” I said trying to calm him down. Joe was my best friend. And then he started stuttering. So today, if you ask me where Joe started stuttering, I can tell you it was right there under that tree along the arroyo and after building that stupid barricade. That was when his S’s were one to many and his D’s got dragged out way too long.

We finally decided it was time to move. I told Joe to wait while I made my way along the bottom of the remaining lengths of the arroyo to the end where it gradually raised up to meet the surrounding landscape. I looked back and saw Joe sticking his head out from under the tree looking at me with eyes all big. I waived to him to come but to keep low; that day our war games we played was real, what with that lunatic out there hunting us down like rabbits.

After meeting up we discussed that the safest route out of that mess was to go to the trading post about a mile away and use Joe’s only quarter to call my brother Steve to come get us. We leapfrogged from one bush to the next, ducking and diving and looking and waiving to each other to come. Finally we made it to the road. After crossing the road one at a time we made it across Grandma Helen’s field and in the middle we stopped frozen, dead in our tracks. At the end of the field a man stood with his arms out waving wildly. We both squinted as best we could; squeezing rays of light into a thin beam that bounced off the back of our eye balls making the man come into sharper focus. It was Grandma Helen’s scarecrow.

Finally, after a day of hiding and running, we made it to the big cotton wood tree near the trading post and stopped dead tired. It was just a little further to go, not more than 20 yards to the pay phone. We started moving again and we heard a burst of laughter. The old gang was there already, all four safe and sound. It sure was good to see them laughing and waving us over to the cool shade of the trading post.

When we got there Anthony, Vernon, Greg and his little brother Ollie were sipping cold sodas. Anthony started laughing hard and said, “From here we could see you moving across the valley like real army guys!” His nick name was Ants.

“Ants, man, when did you guys get here?” I asked taking a cold drink of soda from Ollie’s bottle.

“We ran straight here man. We didn’t stop for nothing when we saw that crazy dude chasing you and Joe.”

“Was he really behind us?” I asked.

“Shoot, he was so close to grabbing Joe that I was sure you guys were getting the crap beat out of you when we lost you guys.”

“And you didn’t call Steve or the police or anything when you got here?”

I was sick and tired of Ants. This was why he wasn’t my best friend. He never thought of anyone else except himself and what made him laugh. He was really laughing now.

I looked down at Ollie and Greg’s feet. Their father was a white doctor at the Presbyterian clinic near the old school. They were wearing flat pieces of sand stone rocks on their feet, taped up with duct tape; somewhere during our escape Ollie and Greg lost their flip flops along with their nice $20 dollar fishing poles and tackle box. I swear they looked like cavemen with their crazy rock sandals.

I asked Ants about Ollie and Greg’s rock sandals and Ants said when they saw the crazy man chasing after me and Joe they knew they had time to stop and look for flat rocks to tape to their feet. I remember thinking it must’ve been nice for Ants, Vernon and Greg and Ollie to just stop running for their lives and stroll around looking for rocks to make sandals. Just great.

We started out for home after finishing up a call to my big brother Steve. Steve was in the 11th grade. Steve said we could go screw ourselves because he wasn’t going to leave his summer job, drive across town and pick us up, except he used the F word instead of screw. Steve was a big jerk sometimes.

We could hear the old car roaring along without its muffler minutes before we could see it coming. That noise sent us running again, this time into the hills behind the trading post. It was long past sundown when we finally got home and sure enough, there was Mr. Yazzie waiting for Joe. My big brother Steve hollering for me to come to dinner. When I got home Steve said I better get ready to tell mom what happened. Walking through the door I thought it would’ve been better for that crazy man to have caught a hold of me.

Unintended target

Across the brushy reservation range land near the bottom of a mesa two Navajo men sat in a blue 1978 Ford F-250. Intermittently one or the other would raise their hand and a container it held to their mouth, pull long and hard, and finishing, throw an empty beer can out the window. This had been going on for some time. Besides the wind blowing through juniper trees and the sound of the Navajo men talking loud, you could hear the tribal AM radio station blaring old forgotten country tunes from Waylon Jennings or Johnny Cash. Between them was a rifle, butt-stock firmly planted between the four wheel drive shifter and the seat, barrel pointing to the roof of the cab, and a caliber .223 Remington hollow point bullet, with 69 grains of propellant, chambered.

Four days ago on Tuesday the men’s mother smoldered with anger that another coyote jumped the corral and killed a sheep that was nearly ready to drop a lamb. In unflattering Navajo she cussed the devil for the fifth attack in a month. Brushing aside traditional teachings, which was to find a medicine-man to determine the meaning of these attacks, she told her boys to hunt the coyote and kill it dead, adding that her boys might as well do something useful for once.

Smarting with their mother’s insult, one of the boys, Jack, got up from the dinner table and walked to the closet and dug out the old semi-automatic rifle while the other, Sam, went to fetch the bullets from his dresser drawer. They both walked outside to the truck and drove to the earthen dam. Noon passed into afternoon, and finally at early evening the boys gave up and headed for home. No coyote.

Day in and day out this was the routine. Load up, park at the dam, look through old BIA binoculars, sleep some, get hungry, and drive back home. And at every one of the evenings they would hear their mother cuss the coyote at the dinner table and scold them because they weren’t looking hard enough, “Probably just sleeping up there, too,” she finished.

But today was different out there on the range land near the mesa. Dark clouds were forming in the north and a cold breeze blew through the juniper trees. In Navajo Jack said he didn’t feel any good. Sam looked at him through eyes connected to a body that consumed nearly seven cans of beer. Focusing a minute, and refocusing the next, he asked if Jack was afraid of the messenger, coyote. It was said in Navajo that the coyote brought bad omen.

“No, I ain’t afraid of nothing!” Jack said in a too loud voice.

Sam looked at his younger brother and wondered if in fact Jack was too loud for his liking. He’s always like that, too damn loud and always looking for something to be mad about, Sam thought. Before he fully comprehended what he was doing, Sam was pointing his finger at Jack and said even louder in slurred English, “You’re a chicken.”

Looking at Sam, Jack smiled and thought about the time Sam couldn’t get up the nerve to ask Ruthie out to the country western dance at the boarding school gym and said so.

“And let me tell you, Ruthie sure kisses good,” Jack said. Sam’s quick glance and outrage told Jack he hit the target good.

“You go to hell!” Sam said in Navajo, which literally was translated as, “You go the land of the evil spirits!” Sam regretted ever telling Jack he liked Ruthie.

From behind a large sage bush near where the blue truck was parked, the coyote cocked its head a little sideways and turned an ear toward the sound of the men arguing. It turned its nose upward smelling the wind and looked again. Calculating the danger, the coyote started out for the sheep corral taking a circuitous route behind the truck nearly a hundred yards distance. From years of dodging vehicles and the people in them, the coyote knew that it was better to go behind them than in front.

Jack and Sam’s argument turned to who was the one more afraid to go the outhouse at night, alone, when they were kids.

“You couldn’t even go to the outhouse without waking me up to walk you over there! You were a chicken then and you’re a chicken now!” Jack taunted.

Just about the time Sam was going to bring up Jack’s childhood bedwetting, Sam looked into the rearview window and saw the coyote trotting along, head turned and looking at him right in the eye. Sam blinked and looked again, focusing better, and sure enough he saw the coyote. Jack noticed and turned and looked too. They were in shocked disbelief for a good second.

When the second was over and in the mad scramble for the rifle a shot went off in the truck. The blast was deafening and the muzzle flash from the gun momentarily blinded both men. In the quiet that followed, Jack saw what was left of the top of Sam’s head and started to shout his bother’s name, frantically trying to stop the bleeding. It was no use. Sam was dead as a door nail.

Down at the house, their mother heard the rifle go off and thought, finally, I hope those no good boys have killed that damned coyote. She opened the curtain and dried her hands on her apron and looked toward the mesa with her old binoculars and could see one of her boys running wildly around the truck and do something on the other side, what it was she couldn’t tell. And she saw the coyote standing there on the hill side looking at the truck and she thought it odd, why aren’t they shooting at that devil!